Siem Reap’s Airport Closed After Mishap

Flights were canceled, passengers stranded and a rescue balloon was on its way Monday after an aircraft ran off the tarmac in Siem Reap Sunday, sinking in the mud and shutting down the  international airport.

Siem Reap Airways Flight 702 from Ho Chi Minh City ran off the runway about 1:30 pm Sun­day, with two wheels sinking into the ground next to the runway, officials said Monday.

None of the seven passengers aboard the ATR 72 turbo-prop were injured, but with no means to pull the plane back onto the runway, the airport was closed Sunday afternoon and all day Monday.

The airport will remain closed until Thursday morning. Three military helicopters will begin flights today to ferry stranded passengers to Phnom Penh, said Khek Norinda, a spokesman for Societe Concessionnaire de l’Aero­port, the development company that oversees both Siem Reap and Pochentong international airports.

Bangkok Airways and its subsidiary, Siem Reap Airways, both fly into Siem Reap, as do Vietnam Airlines, Silk Air, President Air­lines and Royal Phnom Penh Airways. Officials said about 20  flights take off and land daily in Siem Reap, the gateway city to the Angkor Wat temples.

Siem Reap Airways officials said an investigation was underway.

“We want to clear [the plane] off as soon as possible,” said Siem Reap Governor Chab Nhalivuth, who described the plane as “stuck in the mud.”

Details as to why the plane taxied off the runway were unclear  Monday night, but pilot error had not been ruled out, officials said.

A rescue effort will try to pull the plane out of the muddy ground, with a technical crew being sent by SCA. The technical crew would oversee salvage efforts made by Siem Reap Airways, Khek Norinda said.

It was unclear Monday exactly how the teams would haul the plane out of the mud, but the plan included using a giant floating balloon and cables to lift it, said Kao Sophal, secretary of state for the Civil Aviation Authority, which notified airlines of the airport’s closure on Monday. The balloon was on its way to the airport from Bangkok Monday evening, he said.

Passengers in Siem Reap had to either leave by boat or car, or stay in a hotel paid for by Siem Reap Airways, said Sotho Kulikar, a sales representative for the Hannuman travel agency who herself was stranded in Siem Reap.

Sotho Kulikar said she drove past the City Angkor Hotel, where many of the stranded are being put up by Siem Reap Airways, and that she could see “so many people standing outside the hotel.”

Her travel agency was re-routing passengers by boat and land, either to Phnom Penh via the Tonle Sap or to Bangkok via Poipet, Sotho Kulikar said.

Airlines were forced to either cancel their flights to Siem Reap altogether or re-route some passengers to Phnom Penh.

“We’re not canceling flights,” said Steven Pan, country manager for Silk Air. “We’re re-routing them to Phnom Penh.” Pan said passengers could then wait in Phnom Penh for the airport to reopen, or could take a boat to Siem Reap.

Bangkok Airways and Siem Reap Airways canceled their flights to Siem Reap, but offered passengers seats on flights to Phnom Penh, according to Kongsawat Amornrat, a spokeswoman for Bangkok Airways.

Vietnam Airlines canceled its flights for today. “We’re losing passengers,” said Van Ha, section manager for Vietnam Airlines.

President Airlines and Royal Phnom Penh Airways both canceled their flights for today.

Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth said the impact would depend on how long the plane remained stuck.

“Of course it’s not good,” he said. “I want to see [the airport] back in operation as soon as we can….I’m not particularly happy at how things are going.”


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